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Game 15: Ravens get 20-10 win gift wrapped from Browns; clinch playoff spot

FootballBaltimore RavensCleveland BrownsJohn HarbaughJoe FlaccoPittsburgh Steelers

Maybe Ed Reed's sideline scare is a sign and the Ravens are getting hot at the right time.

Reed's fourth-quarter interception sealed the Ravens' 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns and helped clinch the Ravens' third straight playoff berth, an unprecedented achievement in the team's 15-year history.

While there were no celebrations on the sidelines for making the AFC's six-team postseason field, there was some jumping done by the Pro Bowl safety. Reed's body-length jacket caught on fire when he sat too close to a heater, but he leapt up and threw off the smoking coat to avoid any serious injury.

"The guys started saying, 'Ed's on fire,'" said Reed, whose two interceptions accounted for half of the Ravens' turnovers. "They didn't say literally."

Off to their best start under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens (11-4) survived the 13-degree wind-chill temperatures by putting together one of their best team efforts of the season. The defense forced four turnovers, which tied a season high. The offense converted 17 points off Browns' mistakes, reaching the end zone on two touchdown passes by Joe Flacco.

In a year where games have been won and lost in the final minutes, the Ravens made sure there wouldn't be any high playoff drama at the end of the season. This marked the first time under Harbaugh that the Ravens didn't wait until the regular-season finale to secure a spot in the postseason.

But the Ravens' strong play has increased expectations.

"We're in. [But] it's just the beginning," Harbaugh said. "This is where it starts because we have an opportunity now to accomplish what we dream of and what we've worked for."

The only uncertainty remaining is where the Ravens will be seeded. The Ravens can claim the AFC North title and a first-round bye on Sunday if they beat the Cincinnati Bengals at home and the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Browns at Cleveland. The Steelers (11-4) would wrap up the division by beating the Browns (they hold the tiebreaker over the Ravens because of a better division record).

If the Ravens fail to win the AFC North, they would enter the playoffs as a wild-card team and play every postseason game on the road.

"We're a play or two away from probably having the division clinched already, but we didn't get that done," Harbaugh said. "We have nobody to blame but ourselves. We also have nobody to blame but ourselves for the fact that we made the playoffs. I'm proud of our guys. That's a great accomplishment for coaches, players and the organization."

Of all of the Browns' mistakes -- and there were many -- the biggest wasn't a turnover or penalty. With the Ravens leading 13-10 at halftime, Cleveland coach Eric Mangini called for an onside kick to open the second half.

Phil Dawson's bouncer didn't go the required 10 yards and went out of bounds at the Cleveland 38-yard line. Three plays later, Derrick Mason caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Flacco even though the wide receiver was being held in the end zone.

The onside kick "really set the tone in the second half," Harbaugh said. "I'm impressed that we capitalized. To go get that touchdown was big."

Capitalizing on Cleveland's errors was the theme of the game. At times, the Browns' three interceptions, one fumble and countless dropped passes made it seem as if they had gift-wrapped the win for the Ravens.

The only way the Browns reached the end zone was on a trick play in the first quarter. Off a reverse, Mohamed Massaquoi threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to fellow wide receiver Brian Robiskie, who pulled in the ball after Ravens cornerback Chris Carr misjudged the pass in the end zone. It marked the first time in eight years that the Browns got a touchdown pass from a non-quarterback.

Carr redeemed himself in the second quarter when he stripped Massaquoi. Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain picked up the fumble and ran nine yards to the Cleveland 20-yard line.

"You always want to bounce back and do something that's going to put some points on the board," Carr said.

Three plays later, Flacco zipped a laser pass past two Browns defenders and hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh in stride for a 15-yard score. Flacco's touchdown -- he's had one in 10 straight games -- put the Ravens ahead for good at 10-7 early in the second quarter.

"Joe put the ball to where [the safety] couldn't make a play on that," Houshmandzadeh said. "I just had to focus on the ball. You have to make the most of the opportunities when you get them."

A major reason the Ravens beat the Browns for the sixth straight time is the way they backed up their words. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis scoffed a few days ago when asked about Browns running back Peyton Hillis' gaining 144 yards rushing against the Ravens earlier this year, saying it wouldn't happen again and "a blind cat will find a meal every once in a while."

Hillis was held to 35 yards on 12 attempts (a 2.9-yard average) and didn't break a run longer than seven yards.

"Sometimes you got to let people know you're coming," Lewis said. "It ain't about sneaking up on nobody. It's about me getting my team ready to play, understanding this is a playoff atmosphere for us. It's a very exciting time."

Down 20-10, the Browns did attempt a comeback in the fourth quarter, moving as close as the Ravens' 27-yard line. But Reed intercepted rookie quarterback Colt McCoy in the end zone to preserve the Ravens' fifth win in six games.

For one of the few times this season, the biggest worry in the fourth quarter wasn't a failure to hold a lead. It was Reed's accidental flare-up.

"I think you've got the hook for your story: Ed was on fire," Harbaugh said. "And he really was on fire."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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